Ask Athena: The Good Fight

Best defense for family drama and sibling sabotage. 

Q:  I hope that you can help me. My sister is sometimes generous…but aside from this, she is usually unkind. The problem? She often says insulting things about me to others…and about others to me. I fear that she is jealous, and this is what drives these social choices. Her actions erode trust among family members.

How can I minimize the impact of damaging things that she often says about me and others behind our backs? And how can I convince her to stop undermining others with her subtle cruelties? Thank you!  ~ Sleepless in Philly


I am so sorry. Your sister is a bully and is undermining you. The first thing to internalize is that you are not going to change her. Despite your impulses, you cannot convince her of anything. You cannot argue with her; bullies thrive on disagreements.

Once you have that lesson fully within you, it is time to stick up for yourself and others. Do this gently and consistently but do it with facts and not arguments.

If she says something damaging about another person, your response should be, “I have always found that person to be (the opposite).” Don’t argue, just state your own facts. Be bold and do this in front of others, if she states her position in front of them. This not only diminishes her opinions but it also demonstrates to others that they don’t have to go along with her negativity.

If you know she has said something negative about you to someone else, find an opportunity to provide facts to that person to show the contrary. But, do not say that your sister is wrong or said something.

Instead, again, focus on gently providing an opposing position without trying to fight. If, for example, she said behind your back that you are messy, provide examples to the contrary by cleaning up in front of others or describing humorously how you cleaned your house and it tired you out. If she says you waste money, describe how you saved up for something important and how happy it made you to have it.

You have a long battle in front of you. It may take years to reverse her power but it is the only way to go. Fighting fire with fire is not going to work here.

We all have heard the lesson about a weakling who trains to fight and finally beats up the bully when provoked. That doesn’t work in a war of words. You will get your strength and dignity by standing up for yourself and others in a gentle but courageous way.

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please comment below.

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Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

About Athena 45 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to

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